Turtles!

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Balcon del Mar

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Limon,
Friday, August 27, 2010

We were nearly on the first boat out of Ometepe, but we missed it. Luckily there was another one 15 minutes later, and so began our 14 hours of travelling for today. One boat, one taxi and one very full chicken bus later we arrived in Penas Blancas and walked across the border into Costa Rica. From here we made the 6 hour bus ride to San Jose. On arrival in the capital we made our way to a different bus terminal, after a lying taxi driver put on his best gringo charm and informed us there were no buses today going to Cariari and suggested we would be much better off if we jumped in his cab to a very nice, safe, clean hotel, and pay him 4 times as much as anyone else would for the pleasure. No thanks. With no further hassle we caught a bus out of San Jose at 6pm, armed with a bar of Cadbury's that we'd managed to sniff out in the bus terminal, and arrived in Cariari 2 hours later. Phew. Cariari is not a tourist town, so we'd checked on-line at the bus terminal to make sure there would be somewhere to stay for the night. We soon learned after wandering around in the dark that the hotel we'd identified had closed down, the 2nd hotel we found had a missing owner, the 3rd hotel was not surprisingly full. Panic was just beginning to set in when someone pointed us in the direction of Mr Bailey - a Jamaican / Costa Rican completely pissed on whiskey at 9 in the evening with a tea towel wrapped around his neck. As they say you should never judge a book and all that, and Mr Bailey was a great guy who sorted us out a room for the night for $7 and gave us all the information we needed for the morning to make our onward journey to Tortuguero.

With every confidence in Mr Bailey's drunken advice we set off at 5am in the morning in search of the bus to La Pavona. We eventually found it, after walking for 20 minutes in the wrong direction, but a kind bus driver filling up with petrol before his shift started took pity on us and gave us a free ride to the right bus stop. By 5.50am we had in our hands our bus tickets from Cariari to La Pavona, and a boat ticket from La Pavona to Tortuguero, and we'd found time to pop into the bakery for some fresh muffins to accompany us on the journey...priorities. The bus journey was great as this part of Costa Rica is completely rural and the entire 50 minute ride was past enormous banana plantations - we now know where those boxes in tesco come from and you should definitely check for spiders. The bus must have picked up and dropped off over 100 children too, all on their way to school in their bright white shirts - some of them were so tiny and very cute, and they all enjoyed having a good stare at us. By 7am we were aboard a small fibre glass boat with an outboard motor and two rows of plastic chairs bolted in, and after dropping some locals off in very dubious locations (literally in the middle of the jungle...what where they doing?) we were finally on our way to Tortuguero. This last leg of the journey took us up through the canals - an extensive system of natural and man-made waterways that wind their way through dense rainforest.

The village of Tortuguero sits within a national park, and is situated on a very thin strip of land that is sandwiched in between tropical rainforest and the caribbean sea. You can easily see water on both sides of the village and there are no roads, just narrow sandy walkways running between the houses. As ever there were a few local guys hanging around the dock and bidding for our business as soon as we touched dry land, and as we were the only two tourists around we got extra special attention this morning. After checking out a couple of places we eventually settled on a lovely cheap cabana, right on the beach, with a gorgeous garden and plenty of hammocks. Our good decision was very soon confirmed when Alejandro appeared in the garden with fresh, strong coffee and slices of cake for us left over from his father's birthday party last night. We had a lovely relaxing day getting to know our new host Alex, a 28 year old Tico, who together with his parents had been running the cabanas for the past 8 years. We organised a 5am start the following morning to walk along the beach in search of late-running turtles and to spend 3 hours rowing the canals and exploring the rainforest.

As promised, Alex was waiting for us with a big smile at 5am when the 3 of us set off on the beach. This 22 mile stretch of coast is the most important breeding site of the green sea turtle in the western hemisphere, and between June and October thousands of turtles arrive here. At 5am in the morning every patch of sand was covered in huge turtle tracks running from the ocean up to trees and bushes where the sand ends. We were only walking on the beach for 5 minutes when we found a turtle that sure enough had arrived late in the night / early in the morning to nest, and she had just finished laying her eggs and was about to make her way back to the sea. It was a truly amazing sight and we were so lucky to be able to take some pictures using the early morning light - it is prohibited to take pictures using a flash which can disturb the nesting process. Our morning got better as by 6am the three of us were heading off into the canals in a wooden row boat and spent the next 3 hours watching birds, lizards, monkeys and caiman and soaking up the mini-amazon in the sunshine. When we got back Alex had decided that we definitely needed to try some of the infamous creole cuisine from this part of the world, and rather than going to an over-priced restaurant he wanted to cook for us himself. Score! So, the ingredients were bought (coconut, potatoes, carrots, squash, yucca, plantain, chilies, onions, garlic, lemongrass, beef etc) and on he cracked with making the most delicious Ron Don soup...a coconut milk based soup with so many flavours thrown in, and then the vegetables and meat cooked in the soup. The word Ron Don originates from the creole slant on 'Run Down' and refers to running down to the beach or jungle to catch everything you need to make it (fish, chicken, vegetables etc..think beef is Alex's personal touch). Yum, and just what we needed to keep us going as at 10pm we set off into the dark canals in yet another small wooden boat to make the 2km journey to the stretch of beach we were visiting to see more turtles nesting. Again an amazing sight - there were huge turtles everywhere we looked, hauling themselves out of the waves and digging nests ready to start laying their eggs. The guide told us that the turtles lay up to 120 eggs each in one night, and when they have finished they carefully cover their nests with sand and drag themselves back down into the sea. The eggs will hatch after around 65 days but sadly only a very tiny percentage will actually survive the dogs, ants (that eat their eyes), birds, fish, sharks etc that prey on them.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to the lovely Alejandro at the dock (as he insisted on helping us carry our bags) and continued our journey south towards Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and the border with Panama. The 3 hour boat trip from Tortuguero to Moin was again through miles and miles of canals and we saw flamingos, jesus lizards, sloths, caiman and even a 5ft long crocodile sunning itself on the banks...think this beats the bus. After deliberating for a while about whether to make the trek to Tortuguero, coming up here was definitely one of our better decisions. A totally natural and beautiful part of the world and a highlight for us so far.
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Comments

pilgrims-nest
pilgrims-nest on

Fantastic, some of the best photos yet.

Wend on

Brilliant seems to just get better and better. How lucky to see the turtles in daylight so you could get the photos and what a great sight to see all the tracks across the beach. xx

Suzanna on

Turtles! Iguanas! Sloths! How cool (and worthy of many exclamation marks)!

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